Ocean acidification caused by increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has been known to negatively affect the growth of coral reefs.
Thanks to an innovative study of coral skeletons conducted at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, scientists now know that ocean acidity also contributes to the breakdown of coral reefs.
The finding confirms a “double whammy for coral reef in a changing climate,” according to the institute.
Researchers laid small blocks of dead coral skeleton along a 100-foot area of shallow coral reef in Kaneohe Bay and measured their erosion after one year.
In previous studies, researchers weighed the blocks before and after their time in the ocean to determine erosion. This time, the researchers used a high-resolution CT scan to create before and after 3-D images of each block, which provided a more accurate measure of accretion and erosion rates.
The study compared the influence of pH, resource availability, temperature, distance from shore, and depth on the accretion-erosion balance, determining that reefs experienced higher rates of erosion in more acidic water.
“It was surprising to discover that small-scale changes n the environment can influence ecosystem-level reef processes,” said lead author Nyssa Silbiger in a statement released on Friday.